In Italy, a "sagra" is a festival where a community comes together in celebration of a local ingredient or dish—a tradition that fits Gabriel Pellegrini's enoteca and trattoria in both spirit and practice. Classic, bistro-style Italian cuisine joins local, Texan ingredients and flavors to create an entire menu worthy of commemoration. But that isn't to say all the ingredients are local. Imported Mediterranean cheeses and cured meats join house-made mozzarella atop hand-stretched neapolitan pizzas before bubbling gold in a wood-burning stove.
Such dedication to craft and quality carries over into the bar. Shelves brim with liqueurs, grappas, and wines imported from Italy, but the bartenders grow their own herbs, make their own bitters, and infuse syrups and spirits in-house for cocktails that are inimitable in freshness and flavor.
Located in the heart of Austin, the building's custard-yellow and sunset-orange walls complement the warm earth tones of well-trodden floorboards. Black banquettes and chairs surround white linen-draped tables. During the day, natural light streams in through the windows, but at night the soft glow of flickering wall sconces and pendant lamps suffuses the dining area—a suitable atmosphere for a romantic evening or shadow-puppet reenactment of the Battle of Philippi.
Carrying a pita, a diner approaches a toppings bar brimming with pickled condiments, crunchy vegetables, and sauces. Without paying or even speaking to someone behind the counter, the diner lifts the spoon and festoons the pita with a pile of fresh toppings, ready to start the meal anew. At most restaurants, this could get you kicked out, but at Maoz, it’s not only overlooked, but also encouraged. After choosing from such vegetarian and vegan-friendly options as gluten-free falafel and fried eggplant, pita wraps or salads head to the single-visit salad bar. Belgian fries—a thick-cut, lightly battered version of their french cousins—and mounds of sweet-potato fries complement sandwiches and salads along with green-chili sauce, mayo, and salsa for dipping and boosting the self-esteem of napkins.
While feasting, diners sit atop benches at long, shared tables that emulate the communal lunch joints of old in the unabashedly modern chain of restaurants, founded in Amsterdam two decades ago. Mirroring the eatery’s fresh, stylish food, the interior at Maoz features green tiled walls and steel fixtures illuminated by hanging lamps and baby pictures of supernovas.
Kadai Indian Kitchen’s menu reflects the range of northern Indian dishes, including aromatic curries and grilled kabobs. Discs of naan and skewers of chicken and lamb rest inside the clay tandoor oven and roast over a smoldering pile of coals and NASA’s rejected paper-airplane designs. Lentils, chickpeas, and fresh cheese stew alongside sauces brimming with ginger and cumin, all of which go into vegetarian entrees prepared with separate sets of pots and utensils. The chefs also tailor the amount of spice they add to every order.
Inspired by the artists living around him in Laguna Beach, Sid Fanarof sought to do something creative in the kitchen. The result was zpizza, which now has locations across the globe, each filled with bustling chefs experimenting with ingredients traditionally associated with Indian, Californian, and Mexican cuisine. Pizzas use organic vegetables and skim-milk mozzarella, and their organic wheat flour bakes over an open flame to a crisp finish. “If you don’t hear the crunch, it’s not a zpizza,” Fanarof says of the crusts on his website. Chefs first slather the crusts with sweet basil pesto, roasted-garlic sauce, or organic tomato sauce. Their hands flutter across, sprinkling on fistfuls of toppings such as MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage, three types of mushrooms, roasted eggplant, and pine nuts. Vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts allow everyone to enjoy the pizzas except for those trying to hide the fact that they superglued their mouths closed.
Skewers loaded with grass-fed beef and free-range chicken sizzle on the grill at Wholly Kabob, serving as tasty examples of the locally sourced ingredients that fill pita wraps and kebab bowls. Garnished with middle eastern condiments such as hummus, pickles, and mint lemon juice, these dishes sate appetites at lunch, dinner, and late night on the weekends. Additionally, Wholly Kabob hosts free weddings and vow renewals from time to time, uniting and reuniting couples who belong together like peanut butter and jellyfish.